An essential element in making a recording is a click track. That's a metronome style track which is set to a certain tempo and plays like 'tick - tock - tock - tock'. All members of a band listen to the same click track so as to keep accurate time when recording. Even if you're a solo acoustic guitarist or piano player you will still need to use a click track. Read on for a few good tips when it comes to using a click track.
Start the click track before placing the headphones on your head. If you forget to check the levels before putting the headphones on the track could be extremely loud. Drummers especially can end up having a click track at ridiculously loud levels. Here's why:
When exposed to prolonged excessive noise our ears engage a type of 'buffer' status than diminishes noise levels. For example, if you go to a noisy environment like a concert or race car event your ears will adjust to the environment. At first the noise level will seem very loud but soon it will seem less loud. Drummers can sometimes ask their recording engineer to push the click track level up to insane volumes to be able to hear it over their drum kit. If you happen to be the next person to put those cans on... Ouch! And, possibly damage your ears. You don't want that.
You can see in the photographs two safe ways to check your headphone level. Test the click track level before placing the headphones on your ears. Or simply have the headphones rested about your neck and let the click track begin. You'll work out if the level is too loud or not.
Another issue with loud click track is that it can be bleed. Bleed is unwanted noises entering the microphone you are recording with. If you're recording a cool nylon string fingerstyle piece the last thing you need is an endless 'tick – tock – tock – tock' sound recorded along with it. The same goes for vocals, piano or many other instruments. And, you can't be tapping your foot along to the click track. The studio microphone will pick up your foot taps.
Usually you will be able to talk to your engineer through a microphone even if he's in a separate room to you. He will be able to hear you whether you're in front of a vocal mic, behind a drum kit all micked up, or sitting with your acoustic guitar with a good ole SM57 aimed at the sound hole. Most studios have a glass window between the control room and the recording studio. Simply point at your headphone then upwards for a louder volume or downwards for a quieter volume. That's if the engineer is paying attention to you. The same works for any instrument. Point at the instrument and then indicate whether you want the level up or down.
In summary, you want the click track loud enough for you to play comfortably to, but not so loud as to damage your ears or bleed into your recorded track. A good studio engineer should help you find a good level quickly. As an artist in a professional environment you can save time and hassles helping create the best possible recording environment. Less hassles = better music.
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